My son is a 15-year-old baseball player.
He pitches and plays the outfield, centerfield to be specific. He plays centerfield because his coaches are amazed at how fast he runs. "He is fast."
Fifteen years ago my wife went into labor. We were at home, a friend of ours from California had just arrived from the airport to visit us.
She had been having contractions all day and we were taking a walk around the neighborhood when the contractions began to be more frequent and more intense. For you parents our there, you know that's when you start to get your watch out and "time" the contractions. When we got to every 2-4 minutes steady, we left for the hospital.
Now, the long and short of the story is that the labor took a long time, and when my son was born, he had a severe conehead. I mean like the old Saturday Night Live skits with the aliens, conehead. I tell you this story because even though my son was born via natural delivery; no forceps or vacuum was used, no epidural (yes, my wife is a badass), but he was in the birth canal for a long time and he was sort of "sunny side up."
Fast forward to 6 months he is crawling normally and around one year he is walking like any other kid. However, as he gets older, we start to notice a few things. He doesn't do well with changes in routine or schedule. By "not do well" I mean he throws a fit. He has night terrors. And I mean TERRORS. He screams in the middle of the night, every night, as if someone is sawing his arm off. Nothing seems to settle him down except the sound of my voice and even that doesn't work all the time. He always complained about clothes being too tight. He hated loud noises. He would throw tantrums because he could not understand something.
Later, I would begin a program of chiropractic pediatrics to learn more about the neurologic effects of these birth traumas and how they impact a child's sensory processing, movement, relationship with the world around them, etc. I would learn that my son had some form of sensory processing disorder. It's very mild but it was responsible for the symptoms he and the family (me and my wife) were suffering.
Sensory processing disorder - from Child Mind Institute
"Some kids seem to have trouble handling the information their senses take in—things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. Besides these common senses, there are also two other less well known ones that can be affected—proprioception, or a sense of body awareness, and vestibular sense, which involves movement, balance, and coordination.
Kids with sensory processing issues experience too much or too little stimulation through these senses. They may also have difficulty integrating sensory information—for example things that they see and hear simultaneously, like a person speaking—might seem out of sync for them.
These problems can be tough on kids, and get in the way of them functioning effectively, learning, and making friends."
So, what does this have to do with baseball?
I'm glad you asked.
When my son started to run, between age 3-4. I mean really run, not just waddle, we noticed that rather than run and propel himself forward, he just stomped on the ground harder and faster. It was like an elephant running in place.
I was distraught. Here I was thinking that, as a chiropractor, I was an "expert" on posture and biomechanics and my son was jackhammering the ground as his version of "running fast."
Undaunted, we set out on a path of research, practice and education. I learned more about left-right brain coordination, neuromuscular education, proprioception, balance, etc. And I taught my son. We struggled. Not just because he was young but because we were both learning together. And sometimes when you are discovering something together, it's messy.
But after maybe a year or so, I remember we were walking to the Mariner's game through this back alley parking lot and he decided to run. He took off running and I looked over at my wife in utter shock. There he was running. No stomping, no elephant.
Since then, he continues to practice, practice, practice.
Last year he ran track; the 200m and relay.
He is one of the fastest players on his baseball team.
Everyone comments on how "fast" he is.
His hard work didn't just make him faster, it improved his coordination and balance. It made him able to train to throw the ball harder without injuring his shoulder. It helps him take the lessons he gets from his coaches and be able to integrate them faster. Yes, it helps him learn the lessons faster.
Very few people know how hard he had to work to get there. "Fast" has become his moniker and it is one of the things that makes me most proud of him. Not because he is fast, but because of all the hard work he has done to get there.
Many children suffer from some form of sensory processing dysfunction and don't even know it. Many children and parents think they are not good at sports because they are "uncoordinated." But coordination can be taught. Performance can be taught.
It just takes commitment and a lot of practice, practice, practice.
Even if you don't care about sports, doing the exercises are hugely beneficial:
1. Learning- It helps process learned information into the brain so doing it after a class or lesson will help reinforce it.
2. Reduce injury
3. Improves balance
4. Improves coordination
5. Improves posture
6. Improves self confidence
What did we do?
I know many of you just want to know how we did it. Let me say, I am no "expert" per se. I know what I know and it works for my son and the dozens of young athletes I have worked with. I would love to get feedback and advice from other experts out there that know considerably more than I do. I hope this article motivates kids, parents and professionals to start a conversation. The brain and body never stop learning. We can support each other by sharing our knowledge and our stories.
1. Cross crawl exercises- alternating foot and hand, going up and down together. There are various ways to do this exercise but what I have seen is as long as it is coordinating opposite sides, it satisfies the integration of left-right brain. Start by laying on your back and lifting your right arm overhead and left knee to 90 degrees, simultaneously. Alternate. Complete 30 cycles; each cycle being left and right. Or you can think of it as 60 repetitions total.
note: (The brain is actually two separate brains that communicate via a central "bridge" called the corpus callosum. These exercises stimulate and strengthen that bridge).
2. One-footed balance exercises- pick a point in space, stand up straight, and then stand on one foot. Hold for 10 seconds. Alternate. When you get good, move to stage 2- close your eyes.
note: (Stimulates the receptors in your feet and your internal balance system to communicate, coordinate and adjust).
3. Core strength- start with simply laying on your back and sucking in your belly button towards your back. Hold for 8 seconds.
When you can easily hold this contraction for 8 seconds, 8 repetitions, add the Keigel muscles. (like you are trying to hold your pee or poo). Repeat the 8 sec hold/ 8 reps.
note: Make sure to breath! Do not hold your breath. This simple exercise engages all the muscles in your core.
4. Cross crawl standing- take the cross crawl from your back and now stand up. Start flat footed and move up to elevating up to your toes. 30 cycles per day.
This is a great place to start. If you would like more information on what the other stages look like, contact us. We are happy to help.